Monday, October 01, 2007

Experts move to boost intra-ECOWAS movement

Lagos, Nigeria (PANA) - Heads of Immigration Services of ECOWAS Member States have recommended measures to overcome problems frustrating the implementation of the 1979 Protocol relating to the free movement of community citizens, according to an ECOWAS statement made available to PANA here Saturday..
The recommendations came at the end of a three-day meeting in Accra, Ghana.
The trade, customs and free movement committee proposed sanctions for erring officers, an improvement of the working conditions of immigration officers and the facilitation of border formalities for passengers and vehicles.
Other measures include the establishment of a regional training centre for immigration officers to harmonise their training and inculcate a regional orientation, the securitization of national identity cards, which should be accepted for intra-regional travel, as well as the wearing of ECOWAS badges by security personnel at the borders
The committee also recommended the incorporation, from 1 Jan. 2008, of biometric features including fingerprints and digital photographs into the ECOWAS passports, which is being progressively introduced by Member States.
The incorporation will make them tamper proof and improve their reliability as an identification document.
Six Member States - Benin, Guinea, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal- already operate the regional passport, while the complementary ECOWAS Travel Certificate is in circulation in eight Member States.
They are Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Guinea, The Gambia, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The meeting further suggested the progressive installation of electronic machines at airports and border posts to accelerate passport control procedures and ensure greater security, while the ECOWAS Commission should be mandated to help mobilise funds that will support Member States in procuring these machines.
In addition, it suggested a study on the modalities for the introduction of a single entry visa for foreign tourists visiting the region.
The proposed single visa will replace the present regime where tourists have to make separate visa requests for each Member State to be visited, thereby helping to promote tourism in the region.
The committee also made recommendations relating to the entitlement of refugees within the protocol on free movement and urged the countries of origin of refugees to take necessary measures to provide them with appropriate documents to enable them benefit from the provisions of the protocol.
"Moreover, host countries were urged to grant facilities to the refugees to enable them secure residence permit as required under the protocol, while the three-year renewable validity period for the permit should also be observed by Member States," the statement said.
At the opening of the meeting Tuesday, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs, Industry, Mines and Free movement, Mohammed Daramy, said the increasing breaches of the community legislation on free movement at the borders and in Member States were becoming 'increasingly worrisome.'
He said the reputation of ECOWAS as a model in Africa relating to the facilitation of free movement concealed another reality; the behaviour of some officers serving at the borders who use their poor salaries as justification for the harassment of citizens.
He said other challenges that should be addressed by the committee included how to eliminate the forgery of travel documents, the harmonisation of the modalities for issuing residence permits to eliminate the present restrictions on some professionals and the need to allow the use of national identity cards for intra-community travel.
IRIS, a Malaysian company collaborating with the ECOWAS Commission to incorporate biometric features into the ECOWAS passport, made a presentation on the benefits of the system during the meeting.

Mali Informations - Actualité et infos Mali-Afrique - Experts move to boost intra-ECOWAS movement